Breakfast in (North) America

My parents were down last evening for a family birthday party, and so stayed over at my place instead of a late drive home. As usual when they stay over, we went to the local Cora’s for breakfast (Mom really likes it).

Just before we left my apartment, I mentioned to Mom that it was my cousin’s husband’s 50th birthday today, and mused about whether The Significance Of The Date had faded somewhat in the last nine years. Then we got into a peripheral discussion, as we often do, of whose birthdays the the family fall when, and was Grandpa’s September 5th or 6th…?

As we were walking into the restaurant, a family of Middle Eastern extraction, and Muslim — father, mother, baby — were arriving just in front of us. The woman was wearing both a hijab and niqab.

While I’ve seen plenty of Muslim students around town over the years wearing the hijab, the number of women I’ve seen in town wearing more formal dress has certainly increased in the last couple of years. Not really surprising; we have a fair number of immigrants here.

I notice the attire, certainly, but I am also aware of the religious and cultural intent of it, and am probably more comfortable with the choice to cover up extensively than the choice to expose acres of flesh and/or extreme body modifications. My parents, on the other hand, have long lived in a rural area where multiculturalism is, to put it mildly, not pervasive. (They wouldn’t have dealt well with exposed flesh and body mods, either, for the record…)

My parents didn’t get it, and couldn’t understand why she was covered up like that, with only her eyes showing. How would she eat or drink? Did she take it off during breakfast? I said I was sure she was used to managing just fine, and no, she would not take the niqab off in public.

To be sure, my parents didn’t approve, though their reaction was at least quiet, and was less direct than Dad’s comments (blessedly sotto voce) last time we went for breakfast, when we saw two women pushing strollers, both swathed head to toe in black — jilbab, hijab, and niqab, again — only their eyes and hands visible.

While I was wondering how hot you’d get (it was a very bright summer day), Dad implied something along the lines of how wouldn’t you be scared of people like that. Can’t even see who’s under there. Really? Two young women pushing babies in strollers? I didn’t bother pointing out how they were out in public unaccompanied.

This morning over my coffee, I thought about our own family, and the many members of which who grow beards or wear head coverings and plain, full-length clothes (homemade!) Who have “unusual” culture, religion, and traditions and special government status due to their beliefs. Who eschew electric lighting and automobiles, speak a different language, manage their own finances and insurance, pay for medical treatment, and otherwise keep themselves separate from much of The World. Does it get noted if they buy large lots of fertilizer for their farms?

What are they thinking? How would you not be scared of people like that?

  • Brian Martin

    Very well written. Whatever God you believe in the basic tenet he prescribes to us is to love all. Not just the ones whose appearance we find acceptable, or whose beliefs we agree with. These people are God's children just as we are. Thank you for a thoughtful non flag waving piece that is thought provoking and not a political diatribe.

  • http://rickweiss.ca RickWeiss

    I subscribe to your position of tolerance, understanding and freedom for all to express their religious and cultural beliefs. I strive to live these morals in my day-to-day life, and to question bigots who fear and hate out of ignorance.

    It does become difficult when I ponder whether a newcomer to a country affords the citizens of their socially-liberal new home the same respect.

    I was deeply disturbed by the story of the 16-year-old Brampton girl who was murdered by her father and brother in 2007 for asserting her freedoms as a Canadian, contrary to her family's conservative Muslim beliefs. Disowning their daughter would be sad, but preferable to murder.

    Do you think it's possible the family in front of you was judging you, in your own city and country, as a heretic? How does that thought make you feel? It's unlikely, since they were eating in public at a neighbourhood diner. I'm just putting that tough question out for discussion. :) It's one that I struggle with.